Into the Foolishness of God

The power of coming into agreement with God's Word and will

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Photo courtesy CBS news Denver

I wasn’t planning to go there, but I’m here already so I thought I’d offer up some hopefully encouraging and Biblical thoughts for what feels like a world turned upside-down. I mean it when I say what I desire to bring to the table is some clarity in the confusion, some sanity in the madness and some truth in the midst of deceit. I can say that with an honest heart because the words and wisdom aren’t mine, they come from a wiser place than my own head, they come from God and His Word, which is all but abandoned of late. Let’s not abandon ship quite yet.

Do you ever walk away from checking current events and feel like a blinking deer caught in headlights? That was me last night for a lot of reasons. The local news ran a story in honor of Pride weekend about businesses all over the country designating themselves as “Safe Spaces” by placing big rainbow badge stickers in their windows. The idea that “it’s meant to help LGBTQ+ people feel safe year round with decals or signs that designate businesses as safe spots.”  The backstory here being a response to the Orlando nightclub shooting in which the gay community was targeted.

The second article I came across was a listing of the various terms used by the gay community to define their specific ‘identity’. It warned me though, to “be aware that many have been used derogatorily by straight, white, cisgender (defined below!) people”. I guess thats me. I read it through. All the way through. I was informed (or warned) at the end that each of these terms means something different to each person, so learn them but “be careful not to put the burden of your education on other people”. I’m not trying to be snarky, but the message I took from this was one of vast confusion. Understand how the labels are different, but also understand they mean something different to everyone, but also don’t show how privileged you are by misusing said labels. This is a lose-lose situation. I’d never be able to use them correctly much less in a derogatory way.

Before we go totally off the rails thinking I’m on some anti-gay political rant during pride weekend, I assure you I’m not. I’m using two examples that I saw back to back that struck me for various reasons and made my heart, as a Christian (cisgender?!) woman sad. So yes, I speak from a Christian worldview because it’s the only one I believe in.

I speak to fellow Christians who are on their religious high horses to climb down off the merry-go-round of prideful arrogance and come down to eye-level for a minute with the rest of us. The world doesn’t need a religious version of itself, heels dug in so deep and fingers in ears screaming for everyone to hop on board with your cause.

I plead with my fellow Jesus-lovers who are off in some corner someplace sitting silent allowing this culture to pull you along like a puppy on a leash whichever way it pleases while you allow yourselves to be defined and directed by anything but Jesus to snap out of it and armor-up, not in hateful rants, but in truth and love.

Back to the articles. The fascination with the idea of having a ‘safe space’ has run amok, as has the idea that everyone must approve of our ever-changing obsession with labels. Agree with them and understand them or else. Do I believe people are targeted in hate crimes? Yes. Do I think it’s disgusting? Of course. I too would love to walk around the city feeling “safe YEAR ROUND!” but I can’t help but cringe when I read this. A huge reality check is needed here: this isn’t a gay/straight/Christian/non-Christian issue as it’s made out to be. The outrage is hollow and misplaced. This is a sin issue, period. And it never gets addressed. Ever. Instead of looking at the root of that nightclub attack, they are making stickers and writing articles to me about checking my privilege before I dare speak. What caused that attack? A radical, hate-filled individual with evil and sin in his heart. There is no safe space from that, folks no matter how hard we try and designate one. In it’s most raw form, sin tells us we are the center of the universe and to do it our way, to hell with the consequences. Ask Adam and Eve. The world is never going to be a safe space. You can narrow it down to a gay vs. straight issue if you want, but it’s not about that at all. Christians (actual Christians) don’t have it out for gay people. We don’t have it out for anyone actually. We have it out for SIN.

We are called to be sober in a world drunk on selfishness. Called to be vigilant in a culture that has been lulled to sleep by the distractions of social media, youtube and weekend little league. We aren’t the safe space, but we are charged with showing people the ultimate safe space in Jesus. For the unbeliever, the necessity to create a sense of security has lead to this. Instead of seeking out Jesus, we seek to define ourselves (ad nauseum) by something else. For the gay community, it’s with no less than 73 gender identifiers. But before we get too high up on our pedestals, how many do we create? At work? In our social circles? Our suburban bubbles? We label ourselves with what we want people to see: (the Bible study lady! the perfectly crafty mom! the lady who has time to work out! the doting dad!) and we don’t hesitate to label others as we see fit (the gossip! the hot mess! the shallow one! the judgy know it all!) . Just off the top of my head of course… did some of those hit a little too close? Same.

The whole point here: we’re looking all over for an outside solution to an inside problem. Until we address the heart of the issue, the selfish sin that controls us, we are spinning our wheels, putting useless stickers in windows to make ourselves feel like we’re doing something. Labeling ourselves with complicated definitions because we are so desperate to be seen. The safe spaces are going blow over with the slightest wind. The labels are going to shift. So while the world screams “do whatever you want, whenever you want and however you want” the Christian pauses for a moment to understand that’s not freedom. Real freedom is embracing who we are made to be by our Creator and frolicking around in that safest of spaces, His will for our lives. Yes, I said frolicking… because when you know who you are and can rest in it, it’s a frolicking good time. We don’t define it, or let others define us, what a mess we get into when we live out of the desperate need for approval from others. No thanks. Identity from Jesus. Marching orders from Jesus, not culture, not even friends or family.

To those who feel like the blinking deer in headlights, let me say this: fear not. Jesus actually said that, not me. He says it a lot to us. Fear not the frowns and disapproval of the masses. Fear not the upside-down world. Our safe space is impenetrable. Love people enough to speak truth to them. The second we care more about being relevant to culture than reverencing Jesus, we are done for. Pay attention to the loud voices who care more about gaining and keeping followers than they do about sharing the true heart of God, the ones who have decided we need to apologize for Jesus and modify His words in light of some new developments. You all know of whom and what I speak. It’s rampant.

Dear Christians, I genuinely believe we can breathe life into a dead world. Not by using our sharp wits or showing off our perfect little lives, but by suiting up and stepping on the field armed with compassion and truth. That’s it. Be real, and let God do what He does.

We can create false safe spaces and slap labels on ourselves all day long hoping to be liked or validated, and it’s never going to bring us the fulfillment we need. The “loud ones” as I call them are getting louder. I can’t out-dazzle a pride parade, I won’t ever be able to change a complicit media outlet, and I won’t ever have the platform of the current Christian “it-girl”… and that’s a good thing. My safe space is Jesus and no other, my label is simply who He calls me to be. Maybe there’s a remnant of believers out there content with being just that.

I saw a t-shirt yesterday that read “Eat All The Carbs”… I didn’t buy it, but I relate to it. I love all things bread and I’m pretty sure I’d be a far less interesting person without them. I came across some verses recently that kind of reminded me of the perfect loaf of bread, so I’m gonna go with it, because God knows the way to my heart, lol.

“They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry.” Zechariah 7:12

“I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people.” Ezekiel 3:9

Flint is of course, an incredibly hard rock used to start fires. It’s pretty unyielding in its hardness which is why it was and is an excellent survival tool.

The verse in Zechariah speaks of the Israelites making their own hearts hard like flint. They stopped listening to God’s voice, they quit obeying His commandments, and with each choice to follow their own selfish ways, their hearts became harder against God. “For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes have closed…” (Matthew 13:15). Their disobedience led them to be blind and deaf to God’s voice and His ways. They hardened their hearts.

Compare this to the verse in Ezekiel where God Himself tells the prophet that HE will harden Ezekiels head so that he will not be terrorized by these rebellious people. Two big differences here: it’s the head, not the heart that is being hardened, and it’s God Himself doing the hardening.

How interesting is all this?!

The job of the prophet was to warn the people and speak hard truth to them about what was coming down the line if they obeyed/disobeyed. God knew Ezekiel was up against some hard-hearted people who weren’t going to receive that message with open arms. Did Ezekiel change his message to become more palatable? No. God Himself shielded His servant from all the backlash He knew would be coming. Ezekiels job, much like our own in this day and age, was to deliver the message in truth and love and leave the rest to God. Stay the course. God knew the retaliation that would be coming Ezekiels way from the people who refused to hear the message, so He provided his man with some supernatural protection. Not a hard heart, but a hard head.

How fantastic would it be if we could have soft hearts toward God and people and a hard head when it comes to sin? What if we could go out and be bold, truthful AND loving and not obsess over what people think about us? If we could teach our children to be hard-headed to the ungodly junk that bombards them constantly but soft-hearted toward Jesus and their companions?

I wish at times I’d have had a harder head and a softer heart. A God-given forehead of flint that doesn’t crack when the winds of persecution blow, a mind protected from worrying so much about everyones opinions, and a softer heart to be able to see and hear what God desires to come out of it all.

Sometimes we can do all the right things and still get the backlash. Other times, we can do what’s totally against God’s will for us and receive praise from the world. It’s vital to know God’s voice and obey it. Let the chips fall as they say. Hard isn’t always bad and soft isn’t always good, its how and where they are placed. The prophets weren’t afraid of the backlash because they had God-given protection against it, hard heads. It didn’t stop them from speaking up for what was right, it just made it so they didn’t worry so much about the response. They still loved God and their people, soft hearts. I pray that we as believers can allow God to strike this supernatural balance in us – that we would love people and stand firm against anything that goes against God’s word. Hard outside, soft center, like a perfect French baguette.

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“When you adjust, you are dead. If you adjust, you are done. But if you dare to stand, the world will adjust to you. I can promise you that. Not all will adjust to you, but at least some will. We are not going to be sheep running over the precipice because other dumb sheep are running over it. We see the precipice – we know it is there. We are listening to the voice of the shepherd, not the voice of terrified sheep. The terrified, intimidated sheep are going everywhere.” AW Tozer

Jesus tells us in John 10 to be careful about who we allow to have charge over the sheep. There is someone hired and paid to watch over them but as soon as the wolf shows up, he flees (v. 12). He runs because he doesn’t actually care about the sheep at all. His concern is getting paid wages and keeping himself from harm. Sheep aren’t that smart, they go where the crowd goes whether it’s to safety or over the precipice, which is why its vital that we sheep know and recognize the Shepherds voice. Earlier Jesus says that His sheep will not follow the voice of a stranger, but because they know their Shepherds voice, they will hear their name and only follow after Him (v. 4-5).

The trick of satan is to cram so much junk into our heads that we believe everything and nothing all at once. The Shepherds voice gets drowned out with all the other voices and before we know whats happening, we are living with a certain confusion and fuzziness that we can’t even pinpoint. We should be shouting truth from the rooftops but instead we find ourselves sitting out on the fringe watching as the loudest voices pull more and more sheep into their fold.

The loudest voices aren’t always right. God’s Word tells us that “God is not the author of confusion but of peace…” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Friends, grace-filled Christians aren’t Christians who say “yes” to every voice they hear. The grace Jesus preached went hand in hand with standards of truth. They work wonderfully together. Saying “yes” to all the voices all the time has gotten us into a lot of trouble. The reason our culture is off the rails is because people have stopped hearing the voice of the Shepherd and allowed their heads to be filled up with every loud and clanging thing that comes their way. Right now, loud is winning the battle.

Hirelings try and turn the absolutes into optionals. They want us to think boundaries are obstacles to be overcome. Their words sound loving, but they will never ever go to bat for the sheep. “They began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused” (Romans 1:21). Too many opinions and not enough truth lead us down a dark path. This is why we have to be so careful about who we allow to speak into our lives. Just because someone has a conference tour or a bestselling book doesn’t mean we don’t need to filter their human wisdom through the lens of God’s Word. Too many voices. We gather information from all kinds of sources we think may know better and are more confused than ever.

My kids made me watch the movie Twister a couple weeks ago, by the fifth tornado I was checked out, but the end made me think about something; our heroic storm chasers are facing down a massive F5 tornado and have (naturally) cornered themselves in a flimsy old barn. They run to an outlying building where they anchor themselves to some steel pipes. The building and barn are blown to bits and the pipes are the only thing left intact, because they were anchored deep in the ground. The voice of the Shepherd is like that steel pipe, it keeps us from being blown away when the storm comes. Anchor yourself to a wood barn and you can forget it, you’re done for.

Friends, too many of us are tying ourselves to flimsy things that are not going to support us when a storm hits. Voices that say they are for us but are standing stubbornly against the Jesus of truth and grace. It pains me to see Christians twisting themselves into pretzels trying to explain away the Word of God in order to please the masses or even the  neighbor next door. People are more receptive than we think to truth, they crave it actually, we all do.  It’s like sitting through an entire lunch with a giant piece of lettuce stuck in your front teeth and your friend never says anything. I’d want to know if there was lettuce in my teeth, or toilet paper dragging from my shoe… what kind of friend ignores the truth and doesn’t speak up?! It’s not loving to hand ourselves or others over to the hirelings who aren’t going to be there when trouble comes.

God and His word are wonderfully, amazingly clear and uncomplicated. If we aren’t already tied to it, there’s no way we will be able to sustain the secular winds that are blowing our direction every day. It’s a choice to listen to the Shepherds voice. It’s also a choice to go with the sheep. Sin eventually gives birth to death, it’s a fact. Lets be careful not to adjust too much to the voices of the hirelings, no matter how well-intentioned they may seem. Let them adjust to the Jesus we demonstrate, the Shepherd of grace and accountability, and if not, let us hold steady anyway.

 

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“And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way…” Acts 19:23

This chapter, if you’ve never read it is fascinating. There’s a riot going down in Ephesus. Some translations call it a great disturbance, some a ruckus; regardless, the gospel was being preached in Ephesus and it was ruffling some feathers.

A few verses earlier, in Acts 19, we are told that many people in Ephesus were turning away from their worship of false gods and confessing the name of Jesus (v 17). We have accounts of people “confessing and telling their deeds” and publicly burning their valuable sorcery books (v19). This was no small thing in a city that prided itself in the worship of the goddess Diana and to whom a great temple had been built. Enter a man called Demetrius, a silversmith who made his living crafting and selling little handmade shrines of Diana in her temple. It’s a timeless practice, if you’ve ever been to a large church or  cathedral you know how this works; people set up shop on the sidewalks or entrance and offer to sell you souvenirs. When we visited Notre Dame Cathedral with our kids one summer we walked away with a metal replica of the church and two wooden crosses simply because we couldn’t escape the onslaught of pushy peddlers who set up shop right where you are trying to get that all important family photo. It’s amusing to see this practice goes back 2,000 years. Verse 24 tells us that “Diana brought no small profit to the craftsmen.” Just like the hawking of plastic Eiffel Towers and cathedral keychains today, this was a lucrative business.

So naturally, following the very public turning away from Diana towards Christianity, these hucksters were getting ticked off. Demetrius called his fellow craftsmen together and riled them up so much that “the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Paul’s travel companions” (v29). They didn’t even know what they were doing or saying, most of them had no idea why they had even come together (v 32). It finally took a city clerk to calm everyone down and explain to them how irrational they were being. This man wasn’t even a follower of Christ, he simply uses logic to point out that Paul and his men weren’t robbing the temple or even blaspheming Diana. What they were doing was operating in the power of the Holy Spirit and letting the proverbial chips fall where they may.

Paul and his team went about their business preaching and performing “unusual” miracles for two solid years in Ephesus. Diseases were healed, demons cast out, people were changed. It’s very interesting to note what Paul did when people didn’t agree with his teachings: “But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily int eh school of Tyrannus” (v9). 

When someone’s heart was hardened to the message, Paul departed and withdrew. He didn’t hang around to argue, fight, persuade or worry. He left. He went to where the message would be accepted. This isn’t to say he didn’t have fight in him, I’m guessing he had his arguments down pretty solidly. What he did was simply rely on the Holy Spirit to do the work. Paul knew it wasn’t up to him to pull this off. The Great Commission was to GO and leave the rest to God. If people see the miraculous and still choose to turn away, so be it.

There is a battle to fight, but we’ve got to know our strategy. Sin doesn’t like being confronted. Idols don’t topple easily. When we go out into our culture and live according to God’s Word, we will be strongly and sometimes irrationally attacked. It doesn’t mean we cower or stop speaking, but it doesn’t mean we always need to attack the idol-makers either. Paul was effective because he spoke truth and left the results up to God. He made himself a vessel and allowed himself to be used. He didn’t stress about everyone who disagreed with him because he knew the purpose of his ministry was to preach the gospel, not to placate the culture.

When the whole city is full of confusion and rushing to and fro like headless chickens, it’s our duty and our privilege to stay the course. We need to remember its not OUR truth we are promoting, contrary to what culture wants us to believe. It’s HIS truth, THE truth. We aren’t peddlers on a sidewalk selling trinkets of an idol – what we have to offer was paid for at a very great price and is free for the taking. It will cost something though, being a part of this “Way”… our own little kingdoms, our comfort zones, our people on pedestals.

“And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way…”

There will always be a great commotion where Jesus is concerned, especially if we are sticking to HIS Gospel and not our own. Popularity and trinket-selling isn’t His goal for us.

It’s not always easy to go on record for our beliefs. The idols demand allegiance, just like the wild rioting crowd in Ephesus. The world is burning, literally and figuratively. Jesus calls us to choose life, repeatedly, daily, hourly, minute by minute. If you’re following a method or a person that doesn’t swing wide an open door to Jesus or push you to fiercely want to promote and protect His Word, I suggest halting and reevaluating. We aren’t that different from Ephesus in our idolatry and group-think ways. Self promotion, self preservation is the rule of the day, and if we are honest, we see that it gets us nowhere.

I’ll end with a fantastic quote from Lisa Whittle that snapped me right back to reality this morning after waking up at 5am with a zillion fears and annoyances running through my head:

“It’s time to make some heart determinations and declarations, my friends – to rise up, call out, stand firm, and walk strong. This is the time to rise up in holy anger, as Jesus did when He overturned the tables – to fight for holiness and purity and love. It’s time to fight for the freedom from the devil’s lies, which is ruining lives. It’s time to fight for the truth to be revealed about who Jesus is and how only He has the power to save so that other powerless gods will no longer be put beside or before Him. It’s time to fight for eyes to be opened about seemingly harmless distractions like social media and busy calendars and God-ish Christianity and how all of it at the end of the day keeps us from holiness. It’s time to fight for us to truly revere and honor God again. We’ve lost that, I think, that healthy fear of God. We don’t tremble before God anymore. We flaunt our independence.” 

It’s time. Cause a commotion if you need, God doesn’t mind. He has our backs. I think He probably wishes we were more stirred up. Choose your battles carefully, some are meant to win and some aren’t even meant to be addressed at all. Beware the peddlers on the sidewalk and beware the little idols, Jesus has so very much more to offer us. When the whole city is filled with confusion, be the one who rises up in love and power to fight for the truth.

 

 

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The following Facebook post by writer Lore Wilbert is bold and strong and necessary, like a much needed shot of espresso on a dreary morning. She speaks with grace and conviction. Dear believers, something precious is getting lost in the shuffle of our ridiculous obsession with popular opinion.  We are called to first and foremost to holiness. Does anyone remember that word? God is called “HOLY HOLY HOLY” two times in the scriptures and that’s a big deal. The heavenly hosts repeat it three times. This isn’t a quality that exists in a vacuum, out in space somewhere. It comes to us through God Himself, as we are conformed to His image. There are some very loud voices speaking the name of Jesus and preaching a one-sided gospel. It’s a self-serving gospel devoid of a cross, absent of repentance and absent the chance for true freedom. Jesus does not cheer us on to chase our sin, no matter how “brave” or “authentic” we think we may be. We don’t get to choose our own truths, and I for one, am grateful for that. “You must be holy because I am holy”, Jesus said (1Peter 1:16). When something is made holy, Biblically speaking, it is set aside, consecrated and made pure. It’s not a joyless pursuit, but it does require sacrifice, and death to self. People who ebb and flow with the cultural tides are not brave, they are taking the easy way out.

“If people start talking about “my truth” and “your truth,” look them right in the eyes and love them best by speaking the truth. There’s an awful lot in the world that’s not certain, but there’s an awful lot more that is. So rocky as life may seem, seek & find truth. If Jesus is your Savior/Lord, then the biggest truth is His way is the way to life. All of His ways. Not just ones that fit your narrative.

Listen to me, sisters: I’m not going to try to be subversive or coy about this: right now there are women whose blogs you read and books you love to quote who divorced their husbands for a myriad of reasons and are marrying other women. They’re captivating you with their stories, they’re drawing you into their narratives, they’re snaring you with their joy. Listen to me: it’s a trap. It’s a trap they don’t even know they’re setting and they don’t even know they’ve walked into.
I try not to be too noisy about things like this online, but my heart is breaking in a thousand pieces over the past few weeks as I see the fruit of their pulpits eek its way into my sisters lives.
The way of Jesus is narrow—and full of joy. The word of God is hard—and obedience always is. The help of the Holy Spirit is near—because you will need his comfort.
If you’re confused about any of this, the theology, the choices, the decisions made by these women who might have said and taught some things that have *really helped you* in some ways, or even what I’m saying here, here’s what I think you should do: go to your pastor or an elder, or a woman you know who really loves and cleaves to the word of God with her whole life, and lay all this before them, and ask them their thoughts. I’m not your pastor or teacher. But neither should these popular bloggers and teachers be. God, in His goodness, designed the local church to be able to more effectively shepherd you than any blogger, book-writer, podcaster, or conference teacher can or *should.*
Again, though, flee from anyone who starts talking about their truth or yours. Jesus said in this world we will have trouble, and saying there’s only one truth is exactly why. ” Lore Wilbert

Go forward in love, always. Also go with wisdom and discernment, popular does not always mean correct and the joyful way is narrow. The Church doesn’t need any more self-help gospel, we just need people who cleave to the Word and who are willing to practice what they proclaim.

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“But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.” James 1:25 (The Message)

Catching a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God… and sticking it out to it’s promised conclusion, that’s a big deal.  I don’t normally read the Message version of the Bible, but I just love how this verse expresses the idea of sticking to God’s Word and not being a “scatterbrain”. The New King James version puts it a bit more delicately and tells us that the person who looks into the “perfect law of liberty” is someone who won’t be a “forgetful hearer” but will be blessed.

Have you ever found delight and affirmation “in the action”?  Have you ever looked intently into God’s Word, caught that glimpse of truth, stuck with it, and found total joy in the obedience of doing what He says?

When we catch that glimpse, that Holy Spirit nudge, that free life… there’s no changing our minds or turning back. James doesn’t mince words here, he’s telling us that just hearing the word isn’t going to cut it, we have to be doers of it as well. When James tells us to look intently into God’s perfect law, the word he uses implies bending down and getting close to it, examining it face to face. He reminds us that it’s useless to learn something and immediately walk off and forget what was taught. It’s like when people say they took three years of French in high school and can’t remember a single thing. Or if you’re like me, any form of math. I didn’t value it, I truly didn’t care and so, in one ear and out the other!

This verse is so rich I think because it doesn’t stop at the hearing part. It’s showing us the entire life cycle, if you will, of how obedience to God plays out. We will find delight and affirmation in what we do because He’s the one who told us to do it.

Maybe He’s calling us to let go of something. He’s probably also telling us there’s something worth holding on to that needs some healing. Whatever He’s nudging you about, lean in a bit and put in the time to discover what it is. There’s not much room for fear or doubt when you heed His instruction. This verse assures us we won’t be a distracted scatterbrain if we focus in on God’s promptings. That “free life” we are all chasing lies just on the other side of obedience to His Word.

Anyone can drink their coffee and casually read the Bible. What we do when the Holy Spirit starts pushing us in a specific direction makes all the difference. He’ll push us towards things we may be hesitant to get near. He’ll pull us away from unhealthy stuff we may not want to let go of. The beauty of that obedience is that it really does bring that free life, if we can just commit ourselves to bending down and examining closely what Jesus is freely telling us.

Delight in doing what He tells us to do.

Affirmation in our circumstances because we obeyed.

What a great amount of heartache we could probably save ourselves if we bent down a bit more often to examine His word to us. Lord, teach us that when we catch a glimpse of your truth we need to stick with it and see it through. Show us how it isn’t enough just to hear your words, but that the true joy lies in obeying them and seeing the results!

 

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I saw an Instagram post yesterday with a framed picture by a fireplace that read very simply “Fidelity to the Word of God and not to an outcome.”

The quote under it, from author Lore Ferguson Wilbert stuck with me all day:

“I made it as a reminder for us and those who cross the threshold of our home. We don’t play chess with our lives, making the most strategic, financially savvy, career-making, and good for mostly us decisions. We walk by the words of scripture, the Living Water, and the book of Life. Nothing else trumps the word of God.”

The chess thing really struck me for some reason, perhaps because my 10 year old recently taught me how to play and I’m really bad at it. There’s a purpose and an end game to every single move you make. You need to not only watch what you’re planning, but what your opponent is cooking up. There’s short-term tactics and long term strategy. You gather information and store it up. It’s fascinating, but can be mentally exhausting.

Like a giant game of chess, many people are just out to make the “good for mostly us” kind of decisions. We’ve been conditioned to make moves based on where it’s going to land us on the board. Life has taken on the appearance of a giant competition, and seemingly those who know the game are the ones getting ahead.

Of course, we are given brains and logic by God Himself to make wise decisions about our lives. We aren’t robots and we aren’t cave people. Life requires all kinds of judgments on our part to keep moving, and naturally we want to do what is right for ourselves and families.

If you’ve walked with Jesus for any amount of time you’ve probably come to realize this truth: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts. ” Isaiah 55:8-9

I think we often read this and think “oh well, God knows best, que sera sera… whatever will be will be.” That’s flying blind and I don’t think that’s what He intends for us. Once we understand that instinctively our thoughts don’t always match up with His, (we have this thing called flesh, it has a tendency to get in the way a lot) we can also see that that’s not the stopping point. His thoughts and ways are higher (better) than ours. Not unattainable, just something greater to which He desires to reveal to us.

Paul tells us that we have the MIND OF CHRIST (1 Corinthians 2:16), therefore we can be a part of these ‘thoughts and ways’ if we are surrendered to Him. When we have the mind of Christ, we desire what He desires. It’s naturally going to be the best thing for us, but we aren’t stuck in the prison of self-serving, self-promoting strategic chess playing with our decisions.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but it’s end is the way of death…” Proverbs 14:12

So much of it is a trap. You fight for something that in the end doesn’t satisfy, you burn bridges to get ahead when it only leaves you isolated and alone. We’ve all had our well-laid plans derailed and seen how in the end, God’s way was far better.

I don’t think we serve a God of chaos who just throws random circumstances at us willy-nilly to see if we’ll choose the right door, like some cosmic game of Lets Make a Deal. I actually think we often create our own chaos by not putting His precepts first. We could save ourselves a lot of confusion and heartache by doing what that little sign by the fireplace said. Focus on God, not the outcome. He has that part handled. When we make the Word of God our dwelling place, not just our drive-through, we actually enjoy just being with Him in the process. We attain the mind of Christ and His thoughts and ways. We can relax and not obsess over all the next moves, because God will reveal them to us.

The “good for mostly us” kind of lifestyle has left behind a trail of chaos in it’s wake. It trickles down from bosses to employees, friend to friend, parents to children. Have you seen any little league or kids sports lately? Just last week I saw an 11 year old get caught cheating and his response was “if you don’t cheat a little sometimes, you’ll never win.” I’d rather lose with my integrity intact, thank you very much. The point is, when we let God’s Words slip through the cracks in any area, we become a slave to self-centered positioning. It’s the natural progression everything will take if we take our eyes off Jesus, and it will always lead to an empty, unfulfilled, chasing-our-own-tail kind of life. I think God honors humility, not strategic moves.

Life is too short to be playing chess all day. We can’t see four moves ahead, and I think that’s not a bad thing. When we yell “Jesus take the wheel!” we actually should mean what we say. We don’t totally check out, but we do need to allow Him to show us the direction to go. We don’t have to be swindlers to pull ahead in life, quite the opposite actually.

Lord, may we delight in Your Words to us and desire to put them before any outcome we may desire. May we not obsess over attaining a position, but be humble in where we are placed and wait on You to promote us the right way.

Find something that reminds you and those you love of this truth: in this house, in this life, we put God’s ways above the ways of the world. We may lose position sometimes, but we will also gain it back, in unimaginable ways. Let Jesus be one who moves you around the board, let Him decide what gets sacrificed and what stays. He’s the outcome, He’s our end game. Fix your eyes on Him and watch as the rest flawlessly falls into place.

 

I’m re-reading some chapters of the book Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst and was struck this morning by this paragraph in which she addresses our never-ending need to be filled, with something… anything… that satisfies our deepest longings.

“If we grasp the full love of Christ, we won’t grab at other things to fill us. Or if we do, we’ll sense it. We’ll feel a prick in our spirit when our flesh makes frenzied swipes at happiness, compromising clutches for attention, paranoid assumptions with no facts, joyless attempts to one-up another, and small-minded statements of pride. We’ll sense these things, and we’ll be disgusted enough to at least pause… All these things we’re tempted to grab at? They won’t fill us the way they think they will.”

Frenzied swipes at happiness, paranoid assumptions, small-minded statements… all things we do in our flesh hoping for some relief, some acknowledgement that we are doing ok. She uses Paul’s prayer in Ephesians as a wonderful example of the difference between grasping and grabbing:

“I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to GRASP how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be FILLED to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19

When we grasp (understand, take hold of firmly) the love of God and all the true riches He has in store for us, we are FILLED. Genuinely filled, like eating a healthy meal that nourishes instead of a temporary sugar or caffeine fix.

The world tries to get us to grab at any old thing for that fix. If we go out into the world, out into relationships expecting to be filled by them, we are going to be sorely disappointed. People disappoint. It’s inevitable and a part of human nature. If we are finding ourselves driven and controlled by things out of our control, we need to pause. It’s like putting water into a bucket with a giant hole at the bottom of it.

What’s the difference if we are rooted and grounded in Christ and His love? What if we let Him fill us up first and then we go out into the world, into friendships, into family life already satisfied and grounded in who we are?

We aren’t flattened by someone’s hurtful words. We don’t need to compulsively ‘fix’ every little thing. We aren’t obsessing about how or what or why or when (insert dilemma here) will be fixed. It’s not to say we’re ignoring life or problems, we just are grounded in Jesus and want to allow Him to steer the ship. We stop grabbing at what the world can do for us and we learn to grasp how profound God’s love is toward us and all our dilemmas.

Full, fulfilled, secure, accepted, content… these are all what comes when we allow ourselves to be defined by our Maker instead of other people. What a difference to go out into the world this way. We can be genuinely happy for others’ successes. Our ability to see the best in people replaces the side-eye cynical junk we’ve learned to live with because we’ve been hurt. We learn there is beauty in quiet surrender of things we don’t fully understand. The things we once grasped at become a little less intriguing in the light of being filled up with Jesus.

Jesus didn’t come so we would spend our lives grasping at straws and fretting over our position or status. Laying that stuff down isn’t easy, but how amazing that we have a Savior who came and actually told us to unload it all at His feet (Matthew 11:28).

He tells us to come to Him and He will give us rest. Make rest your starting point. Begin there, at His feet and get filled up. Instead of going out into the world as a sponge and soaking in all the things that never fulfill, go out already full and see the difference. Things don’t soak in as easily. We can discern things more clearly. Our emotions aren’t dependent on the actions of others. That’s how relationships thrive, that’s how our hearts come alive. No frenzied swipes at control, no weird assumptions that turn us into our own worst enemy. Just reliance on the One who asks us to sit quietly at His feet and get filled. The people who do that are the ones I want to surround myself with. I want to be like that. The freedom that comes when we let Jesus fills us up is better than any temporary success or self-made victory.

“The more you taste the sweet joys of Jesus, the more will sin taste bitter to your soul. Fight satan’s taunts with God’s pleasures.” John Piper 

 

camel_one_previous_owner4Photo courtesy: moxon.net

This post is about how to act like a camel, so bear with me for a moment.

Every once in awhile I come across a familiar verse and see it in a whole new way. There’s this little section in my Bible they call “word wealth” and it aims to reveal the true meaning behind certain words. The original meaning, from the Hebrew or Greek. What’s fascinating is that some of our English words just don’t cut it when it comes to understanding what God was conveying to us through His word. In the same way that Eskimos have several different words for what we just call ‘snow’, there are layers and meanings to our ‘ordinary’ words.

Here’s the verse, which we’ve probably all heard a few times:

“Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.” Psalm 37:5

Commit your way. Words like dedicate and devote come to mind. If I commit my way to Him I’m making a kind of pledge or promise to follow Him. All good things.

Here’s what my Bible had to say on it that just was such a powerful picture to me:

commitgalal (gah-lahl) Strong’s #1556; To roll, roll away, remove. In this text the reader is encouraged to roll his works into God’s care. The picture is of a camel, burdened with a heavy load; when the load is to be removed, the camel kneels down, tilts far to one side, and the load rolls off.

Did you catch that? Read it again. We’ve all probably seen a camel kneeling down to drink or let someone off it’s back. It has to get down on it’s front legs and roll the load off it’s back.

Kneel. And roll.

This is such a simple and profound thing for me. We all have loads to carry. Some is just life responsibilities, like work or kids or marriage. We carry them everywhere we go. It’s our God-given ‘load’ and in the right context, it’s a joy to carry. On the other hand, we pick up things along the way that are simply backbreaking, things we aren’t meant to haul around.

Guilt. Disappointments. Old scores to settle. Resentment. Opinions of others. What a long list we can all make.

Is your back hurting? Is your spirit heavy? God is saying it’s ok to bend the knee and take a rest. Furthermore, after you’ve bent the knee, feel free to roll all that junk right off. Lighten your load. Get rid of it. Roll it AWAY from yourself and ONTO a God who can actually do something about it.

How very freeing. Remember what Jesus says to us:

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28

Rest for your SOUL. I don’t know about you, but I desire that kind of rest. You know how you feel after a solid nights sleep? I imagine soul rest is even better and more important. It doesn’t mean the troubles disappear, it means though that they are off our backs. Rolled onto a Savior who willfully takes them. What is required of us? Kneeling and rolling. Pretty basic.

Ask God today what you need to roll off your back and onto Him. We aren’t required to walk around heavy-laden on the verge of collapse. It’s not heroic to be overburdened. Camels aren’t the most graceful of creatures I suppose, but neither are we when we are overwhelmed. Kneel down, awkward as it may be, and roll all that stuff off. I imagine we’d all walk a little lighter and straighter without a giant load weighing us down.

Blessings friends.

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Do you ever come up against people or arguments that are so one-sided, so determined to remain in their own four walls that you genuinely don’t know whether it’s worth it to fight or flee?

I watched a fascinating video yesterday posted on the Sheologian’s website about what happens almost weekly at an Arizona Planned Parenthood clinic between pro-life and pro-abortion protesters. There’s a pastor who shows up to talk with the abortion rights people. He asks calmly about their position and if they would please speak with him and have a conversation about what they believe. This is what happens: cowbell.

This lady stares into her smart phone and relentlessly shakes a giant cowbell in his face. She then says she doesn’t engage with crazy.

I began thinking about how much of our time is spent uselessly trying to argue against the cowbells. To be totally fair, I also considered the times I’ve spent being the one ringing that big ol’ bell.

Noise is nothing but a distraction from the truth. Truth is what leads us to freedom. If all a person can do is ring the cowbell and make more noise, there’s no getting around it and there’s certainly no hope for ever receiving any truth.

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about foolish arguments:

“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.” (26:4)

Strangely enough, the very  next verse seems to say the exact opposite thing:

“Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” (26:5)

 

Wait… are we supposed to engage or run? Fight or flee? I think instead of being opposed to each other, these two verses build upon one another. The first verse is warning us not to stoop to a low-level because it simply makes us into what we are standing against. It’s the whole “two wrongs don’t make a right” analogy your mom always told you when you were a kid. When someone is wrong, they only way they can draw you in is through deceit and distraction. The enemy would like nothing more than to see us all standing around shaking cowbells at one another because it distracts from what is really happening. It’s a lose/lose situation, even for the person who originally was standing on the truth.

Verse 5 is the different side to the same coin. It tells us to answer these arguments “lest he be wise in his own eyes”.  A right word at the right time can change everything. The point is not to shame someone and hammer them for being wrong, but to expose untruth and folly so we are not wise in our own ways.

What strikes me most in this story of the pastor is that he isn’t obsessing over winning or being right, he’s just desiring truth to get out there. Whether it’s accepted or not isn’t really his issue. He speaks it, but doesn’t get sucked down the rabbit hole of hostile and foolish arguments. God’s path to victory is often via a humble and low-road. The great thing about truth is that it doesn’t really need us to defend it. It just is. We stand up for it and speak it, but the fight isn’t really ours to take on.

Two strangers confronting one another on the street is one thing, but take this now and apply it to your actual life with family and friends. My eyebrows raise and my teeth clinch a little just writing that. Sometimes there are cowbells ringing all over the place, from the ones we love the most. At times it’s us holding up a giant noisemaker refusing to budge or hear any truth. Satan would like nothing more than to keep us clanging and shaking bells in each others’ faces. I love this passage from Lisa-Jo Baker:

“We are never in more dangerous territory than when we’ve been wounded by someone, and as we lie there bleeding and hurt, Satan tries to poke and prod and torture us into a reaction that is wildly out of proportion to the original wounding.” 

Wildly out of proportion. This is his trap, believers. The desire to be heard leads us down an irrational and ungodly path where truth gets tossed aside and our winning becomes the most important thing. We have to ask ourselves which we care most about, doing right or being right? I’m a huge believer in the notion that when we continue to do what is right in God’s eyes, according to His word, He will lift us up.

The noise of foolish arguments is designed to keep us distracted, spinning our wheels, angry, and obsessed with the wrong things. Cowbells are everywhere. I thank God every day that there is so much to be found in His Word to guide us around all this noise. If you’re holding up a big bell, consider setting it down and listening to the person in front of you, above all, consider listening to God. If you’re faced with someone ringing relentlessly in your face, ask for wisdom about how to engage. Or disengage. That’s the beauty of walking with Jesus. His truth is our most powerful weapon. Far better than a giant noisemaker.

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